Compare and contrast – Atul Hatwal writes that a Labour victory from the current position would be unprecedented, Dan Hodges writes that a Tory victory is still the most likely outcome of the election. On the other side of the political fence Paul Goodman writes that a Conservative victory is impossible and Matthew D’Ancona that Cameron is perilously close to blowing it. Peter Kellner has also written a scenario as to how David Cameron could win here, though I think he’s done it more as devil’s advocate than as a prediction!

They aren’t of course necessarily contradictory, it is not a given that somebody has to get a majority. I think the essential problem is that there are significant obstacles facing both main parties and, if you want to spin it that way, significant reasons why both sides “can’t win”. Equally, there are ways both sides could clamber over those obstacles with a bit of luck on their side. You may, at this point, want to get a cup of tea – writing about the problems of both sides, and why they might not be problems may take some time….

…Back with me?

To start with the Conservatives, Paul Goodman does a good job of identifying some of up the problems that currently stand in their way of winning an election. Firstly, there are several social groups where the Conservatives particularly struggle, putting a cap on their potential support – Paul mentions the failure of the Conservatives to win support from ethnic minority voters who demographically or attitudinally might be expected to vote Conservative but don’t, but one could equally well point to the fact that people in the north are less likely to vote Conservative, or the party’s collapse in Scotland. This is, in many ways a problem with the failure of the Conservative party’s modernisation. It’s hard and takes a long time with little in the way of immediate returns. Past Tory leaders have repeatedly been forced into appealing to their own core votes, decisions that were probably tactically correct in the short term, but which in the long term further entrenched negative views of the Conservative party that prevent them widening their support. To give a current example, I suspect the cut in the 50p tax rate probably didn’t do as much short term harm as people think (my guess is the budget damage came much more from the granny tax and the appearance of incompetence) because the majority of people already think the Conservatives favour the rich above normal people. It did, however, further entrench that view and makes it more difficult for the Tories to change it in the future.

If the Conservatives first problem is the limited upside to their support because they are still toxic to much of the electorate, Goodman’s second issue is UKIP – the availability of an alternative party on the right. I’ve written about UKIP’s support in more detail here. In short UKIP support does come disproportionately (though not exclusively) from the Conservatives and isn’t just, or indeed even mainly, about Europe. It is about immigration and general dissatisfaction with government performance or modern Britain. The biggest increase in UKIP support came as a result not of anything related to Europe, but as a result of the budget and the omnishambles period. In one sense I think Paul worries too much about UKIP here, in the absence of UKIP those voters would still be disillusioned and unhappy, they’d just find other outlets to register their dissatisfaction. Where UKIP’s presence does make it more of a problem is that, as Matt D`Ancona writes, it provides a gravitational pull on the right, meaning the Conservatives have to be wary of leaving too much space to their rear lest UKIP prosper too much. I do also ponder exactly how the Parliamentary Conservative party will react if UKIP come top in the European election next year and the inevitable spike in normal opinion polls that will follow a strong European election performance… especially if the election debates are being negotiated at the time. Having lost an election to Cleggmania David Cameron probably won’t want to risk Faragemania, but in the event that UKIP are ahead of the Liberal Democrats in the polls it may be difficult to argue that Farage should not be included in the debates.

The biggest problem for the Conservatives though is simply the high bar they need to get over to manage an overall majority. On a pure uniform swing the Conservatives need an ELEVEN point lead to get an overall majority. The more commonly cited seven point lead is based on a (reasonable enough) assumption that Liberal Democrat support will be down at the next election which reduces the sort of lead the Conservatives need.

Seven percent, however, is still a formidable lead to achieve to get a majority of just one. Tony Blair in 2005, Thatcher in 1979, Wilson in 1964, 1966 and Oct 1974, Heath in 1970, MacMillan in 1959, Eden in 1955, Churchill in 1951 and Attlee in 1950 all got overall majorities with lower leads than the seven percent Cameron achieved in 2010. The main reason the Conservatives didn’t win in 2010 is not the proportion of the votes they got, but how those votes translated into seats. Given the likely failure of the boundary changes, the situation will probably be the same at the next election.

I particularly dislike arguments based on “this has never happened before therefore it can’t happen” (beautifully parodied here), so the common argument you hear of “no government party has ever increased their share of the vote so the Conservatives can’t win” should carry little weight. There have only been 18 elections since WW2, and in 3 of them the governing party has increased their share of the vote. Those were special cases of course – they were short Parliaments, so they don’t count. If the Conservatives do increase their share of the vote then I expect this case would also be dismissed as a special case, because it was a hung Parliament, or because the third party’s support collapsed or whatever excuse people come up to make the data fit their rule. Nevertheless, it does go to underline the sheer difficulty of what the Conservatives need to achieve in order to win a majority.

Those then are the obstacles facing the Conservatives – they need an increased lead over Labour to win, yet the potential to gain new support is limited by the party’s toxic image and their existing support is being nibbled away by UKIP to their rear. How can they win from there?

First there is the question of whether the Conservatives really would need a lead of 7 points. Peter Kellner floated this idea in his piece this week, suggesting the Tories could win with a 4 point lead.

There are a couple of reasons why the Conservatives could outperform UNS in a election that was otherwise quite static. The first is that while one of the reasons for the perceived bias in the electoral system, smaller electorates in Labour seats, will remain at the next electon, another reason may diminish. One of the reasons the Conservatives win fewer seats than Labour on the same shares of the vote is that Labour and Lib Dem voters have historically been much more likely to vote tactically for each other. This means that in seats where the Conservatives get between 35-40% of the vote they normally fail to win the seat due to tactical voting against them, while Labour will often win the seat on the same share of the vote because their opposition is split between the Conservatives and Lib Dems. In 2010 there were 66 seats where the Conservatives got between 35% and 40%, they won 30 of them (a hit rate of 45%), there were 78 seats where Labour got between 35% and 40% and they won 47 of them (a hit rate of 60%).

We already know that the 2010 Lib Dem voters who are least likely to have stuck with the party are those who actually identified most with the Labour party, and who were presumably voting Lib Dem for tactical or protest reasons. Now, I am sure when push comes to shove some of those will end up holding their noses and voting tactically for the Lib Dems anyway – but some won’t, and if Labour identifiers are less likely to tactically vote Liberal Democrat at the next election than they were at the last election the Liberal Democrats will be losing votes where they need them the most and Labour will be gaining votes in seats where those votes are of no use to them… the effect would be to reduce the anti-Conservative skew in the system and deliver a Conservative victory on a smaller lead. We cannot tell if this will happen, it is practically impossible to predict tactical voting decisions in advance when people themselves probably won’t make sure decisions until very close to the election.

A second factor is the incumbency bonus. The Conservatives gained a large number of seats from Labour at the last election and in those seats they will have the benefit of a “double incumbency” bonus – that is, in most cases Labour will have lost the incumbency bonus their former MPs enjoyed at the 2010 election, while the new Conservative incumbents will have built up their own personal vote. In a largely static election or an election with a small swing against the Conservatives that will provide an extra buffer for Conservative MPs. A good example of this is the 2001 election. The election produced a 1.75% swing from Labour to Conservative, which should have resulted in the Conservatives retaking 15 seats from Labour, but because those new Labour MPs benefited from incumbency and the Conservatives had lost it they only took 5 (and managed to lose one the other way).

These factors mean the bar for the Conservatives may not be quite as high in practice as it appears in theory, but that is not much good if you are 10 points behind. To win the Conservatives need to retain the level of support they got at the last election and probably (assuming Labour gain at least some support – I’ll come to them later) gain some more on top of that. There are two reservoirs of potential extra votes for the Conservatives – people who voted Conservative in 2010 but no longer say they would and people who did not vote Conservative in 2010, but would consider it. Don’t make the mistake of assuming the Conservatives in 2010 were at their maximum level of support in 2010 and ignoring that second group – they are very real indeed. Looking at the big Lord Ashcroft poll from November, 16% of people currently saying they’d vote Conservative are people who did NOT vote Conservative last time round.

Not only is it possible for the Conservatives to get extra votes they didn’t get last time round, they are actually doing it. That 16% of current Tory voters is about 5% of people voting. Those voters come mostly from the Liberal Democrats and from 2010 non-voters, though there are also some people who voted Labour in 2010 who would now vote Tory. As to why the Conservative party has picked up these voters, back in July Lord Ashcroft did another big survey that segmented out the people the Conservatives had lost, gained and kept. The biggest defining factor for these “Joiners” as he called them were people who trusted the Conservatives more than Labour on the economy, or at least, trusted Cameron & Osborne more than Miliband & Balls. Ashcroft found a similar pattern amongst those who said they would consider becoming joiners (or “Considers” in his parlance) – their defining characteristic was that they trusted Cameron & Osborne more than Miliband & Balls.

So while the Conservatives undoubtedly do have a cap on their potential support due to their toxic reputation with some groups, the extra support is there to be won, and can be won on the basis of the economy and people’s preference for Cameron over Miliband. Other research by Ashcroft shows these Conservative joiners are also more socially liberal, more likely to be the sort of people who are attracted by Conservative support for things like gay marriage and, at this point, we come into conflict with the other side of the equation, the 2010 Conservative voters who the party has lost.

The Conservatives got 37% at the last election. Currently they are around about 31% in polls. Looking again at Lord Ashcroft’s poll from November, the two biggest chunks have gone to don’t know, won’t vote or won’t say or UKIP. Looking at Ashcroft’s segmentation, these voters tend to be people who don’t think David Cameron has performed well in government or don’t think the Conservatives share their values, yet who also have negative opinions of Labour and the Liberal Democrats and normally prefer the Conservatives to Labour. Ashcroft’s polling suggests the most powerful message to these lost Conservatives will be a tactical one – that voting UKIP would risk letting in Labour and Ed Miliband. While UKIP support is not mainly driven by the European issue, if David Cameron does come out with a strong message on renegotiating Britain’s relationship with Europe I suspect it could speak to their values and help them believe the Conservatives understand people like them, though I am conscious that allowing doubt over Britain’s future membership of the European Union to fester could be an extremely high risk strategy for the Conservatives.

Turning to Labour (and for those of you starting to flag, we are two-thirds through!) the arguments about the difficulties they face boil down to two. First there is the question of whether their mid term lead in the polls is really of the sort of scale that a successful opposition should be achieving. Secondly is whether their undoubted lead in voting intention polls is undermined by more lacklustre figures on things like Ed Miliband as a potential Prime Minister or economic trust (the latter is often tied up with lots of internal Labour party politics and positioning which I won’t get into!)

The general pattern for opposition parties is for them to gain support during the middle of a Parliament as people are disappointed or angered by the government and want to register a protest, either by telling pollsters they’d vote elsewhere or by registering protest votes in elections that they don’t see as mattering that much. As the election approaches incumbent governments tend to do more crowd pleasing things to win back support, and people tend to think of their vote more as a choice between alternative governments, rather than just a way of protesting against the incumbent, and almost always this results in some degree of swing back towards the governing party. This pattern was largely broken in the 1997-2001 and 2001-2005 Parliaments, given that Labour remained pretty popular throughout both and there were never big opposition leads to begin with. It re-established itself to a degree in 2005-2010.

Now, if we look back through history oppositions that have gone on to win the next election have normally enjoyed mid-term leads of 20 points or more, oppositions with lower leads mid-terms have generally ended up losing. By that yardstick, Labour isn’t doing well enough to win, this is not the sort of lead that winning oppositions tend to mark up mid-term. Just as with the “no government has increased its vote” thing I discarded earlier, just because no opposition has even gone on to win the election without getting their mid-term lead up to 20+ points, doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be done. This time could be different, I’ve written about this at much more length here but there are two main things to consider. Firstly, the arguments about Labour not being far enough ahead assume they are not going to get further ahead in the future. Mrs Thatcher’s Conservatives weren’t miles ahead at this stage either, it was the winter of discontent that did that and pushed them over the top.

That’s an argument about events coming along in the future though, and they can cut both ways. A more interesting consideration is whether these are mid term blues at all or whether we are seeing a more substantial and permanent realignment of support. The vast majority of Labour’s increased support since the general election is not from people switching from the Conservatives, it is from people who either did not vote at the last election, or people who voted Liberal Democrat at the last election. I think the problem for the Liberal Democrats is much more serious than mid-term blues and the support that has moved from the Lib Dems to Labour may be a lot “stickier” than mid term support has been in the past. I wouldn’t, therefore, spare too much worry to the “Labour need to be further ahead” argument. In normal circumstances they would, but these aren’t necessarily normal circumstances.

What I think should be more worrying for Labour are the underlying figures on Ed Miliband and on economic trust. People’s preference for Prime Minister normally goes hand-in-hand with their voting intention. If you graph the two questions side by side they move pretty much in parallel, with the governing party normally doing a little better on the PM question as it is, after all, easier to look Prime Ministerial when you actually are Prime Minister. When IDS was Conservative leader the Labour lead in voting intention was, on average, 16 points less than Blair’s lead over IDS as best PM. When Michael Howard became Tory leader the gap between his performance as best PM and the Conservative VI lead fell to seven points. That shrunk to 5 point when David Cameron took over and once Gordon Brown replaced Blair the Conservative lead in voting intention was almost identical to the Conservative lead as best Prime Minister. With Ed Miliband that small difference has become a vast gulf, when I wrote about this last year the average gap was 18 points. Since then Labour’s lead in the polls has inched up a bit, but Miliband’s rating as best PM hasn’t. In recent month’s the gap between preferred party and preferred PM has been 20 points.

There is a similar but smaller gap on economic policy. There are all sorts of different ways that economic trust is asked – a straight question on which party people trust the most shows them neck-and-neck, whereas questions asking if people trust Cameron & Osborne more than Miliband & Balls show a lead for Cameron & Osborne. Either way, it is the same pattern of Labour leading in voting intention but doing less one on important underlying questions.

The question is whether this matters? Clearly, at the moment, people think Cameron would make a better Prime Minister and either prefer the Conservatives or rate the parties equally on the economy… yet Labour have a substantial polling lead. Clearly it isn’t a deal breaker! On the other hand, it could become more important and influential as the election approaches and voting decisions become more of a choice between alternatives than just a way of signalling dissatisfaction with cuts and austerity. Once again, we don’t know what will happen, and the present polling cannot tell us.

In closing both the Conservatives and Labour face obstacles, but neither’s are insurmountable. It is perfectly possible to come up with plausible scenarios where either side win – or to spin the figures to claim the other side cannot possibly win. Personally I am happy to admit I don’t know what will happen, there are too many big unanswered questions about the economy, the Eurozone, the debates, the European elections, how the end of the coalition pans out, and how public opinion evolves as the election approaches that it is impossible to make an informed prediction without. With some honorable exceptions, I suspect in many cases people’s predictions this early say a lot more about their own personal preferences or what political axes they have to grind against their party leaderships than what is likely to happen at the next election.

313 Responses to “Well, SOMEBODY has to win”

1 2 3 4 7
  1. @ Postage Included

    Hello, Is this the first time you’ve commented on UKPR?

    If yes, welcome to a happy site. :-)

  2. YouGov
    Con 32 Lab 43 LD 10 UKIP 9

  3. @ Billy Bob and Howard

    Guess what I did today? I went to Congressman Raul Ruiz’s office opening and welcome reception! Today is the day that the new Congress got sworn in and it was kinda exciting to see. I made sure to tell him about his large European fanbase (this btw will out me if he reads this website at all but I don’t think he even remembers my name so I don’t think it’s problem). He was surprised to learn this fact but I think he’s surprised to be in the position he’s in. So was his mom who I met for the first time (she’s a hoot).

    From what I can tell, she doesn’t speak much English (Spanish is her primary language). She’s somewhat overwhelmed by and beside herself with the whole situation. She’s a first generation immigrant and I think she’s a former fieldworker and housekeeper. Her son is now a United States Congressman and is giving interviews to major networks, surrounded by a diverse group of all these random and adoring strangers coming to wish him well and get photos, and powerful people coming to visit. I met his sister too. She’s adorable and seems like a total hippie chick (well a 2013 Latina version) and very nice.

    Btw, his predecessor did not come to their family’s Thanksgiving dinner in case you were wondering. She did though (just two months prior to the election) buy brand new computers for the office which he and his staff have now inherited. This is a major difference between the U.S. and the UK when it comes to expenses. You see here, you get to keep your title for life. BUT you don’t get to keep what comes with it for life. So if we did allow our members of Congress to use public treasury funds to purchase lavish luxury (and expensive) homes, you would get it while you served but after the voters threw you out of office, your successor would get to use it.

    The reception was quite a scene too because there were three seperate events planned that wound up blending into one event. And he had drop by visits from the Secretary of Labor, Sandra Fluke, and Steny Hoyer (the chief Democratic whip under Nancy Pelosi) among others. That man is a natural born politician.

  4. Anthony

    I agree with your post. Very well written and very well analyzed as usual. I would say though that I think it’s far too early to predict how either party would do in a general election or to extrapolate too much from an election. If the government is on the ropes and looks like it might fall, then perhaps these polls are a good prognosticator but if the election isn’t until 2015, things can change and in a hurry too.

  5. Labour at 43 on YG seems to be rock solid & will not be moving in either direction until something happens.

    I’m wondering whether Dave’s much trailed EU speech will affect Labour VI or will it simply boost the Cons without impacting Labour at all?

  6. Latest YouGov / The Sun results 3rd January – CON 32%, LAB 43%, LD 10%, UKIP 9%; APP -31

    AW …I have never much been swayed by the Con must get 4% (or 7%) lead as first past the post makes so many votes pointless, so it is impossible to know how many people don’t bother voting or vote tactically.

    The big issue I don’t think you mention is the number of voters who are anti-Tory rather than pro-anybody. Yeah, ther are som anti-Labour voters too (and the effect is pronounced in Scotland and those seats where Lab and another party are in 1st and 2nd place. So you will get natural Tories voting SNP, PC or LD to keep Lab out.

    But I believe there are far more anti-Tories and seem to remember some polling to that effect. And that anti-Tory vote is aligned with Lab and the left as a result of the coalition (and its actions on everything from benefits, public sector, immigration and tax cuts for the rich). This makes the electoral maths look unsolvable for Cameron, Ashford and Osborne.

    Major events could dent it …wars, EU exit/break up, national strikes, soaring unemployment, house prices collapsing, but these things could just as easliy destroy the Government’s support.

    I don’t think I’m blinded by partisan wishful thinking. Since 1992 we Lab voters have been frightened. But I cannot see how Con can win. There only hope is that Lab get no more than high 30s support, and even that might give them a narrow majority.

  7. When we look at historic polling and point out 20 point leads in the past I wonder how accurate these really are. I had a look through a lot of them going back to the 1980’s and it seems inconceivable that one party or another had 50% of the electorate.

    Maybe Anthony could talk us through what the differences are in methodology now compared to the1980’s (or specifically the Kinnock 1992 one). You look at the 1992 election and the closer you got to the day the more accurate the polling was becoming.

    My gut conclusion is that as people firmed up you got a more accurate picture but that now that is already filtered into polling (particularly ICM) in various ways to take account of likelihood to vote and don’t knows.

  8. Perhaps it’s also worth considering that the ‘need’ for a 20% lead now perhaps forgets the potential electoral bias? If Labour are now ahead by 10, and Tories need a lead of 7,or 11 etc, then it could be argued that the effective lead is already around 20 points, and therefore unassailable if we take history as a guide?

    This morning’s news on the new Labour policy on pension contributions is interesting. I really like the move on pension tax relief, but I’m less sure about the compulsory jobs for long term unemployed. I would have rather they announced a reform of pensions with the money saved, perhaps rolling up all the additional pensioner benefits into an enhanced basic pension, and using the saved money from tax relief to upgrade the amount to avoid losses through income tax.

    The closure of Switzerland’s oldest bank following admission of conspiracy in US courts is also great news. The US is showing great determination to pursue and imprison bankers behaving illegally – such a shame the UK authorities are still stuck worshiping bankers.

  9. @SoCalLiberal

    Yeah, Raul Ruiz really should start to cater to his European fanbase, I tried without success to purchase a bumper sticker or (oh, if only) a campaign t-shirt. I’m guessing this is because of the strict rules about contributions coming from overseas.

    There is hope though. I found a memorabilia site (on ebay) where you can buy a “Pat [Nixon] For First Lady” button for £6.16, but why would anyone would want to pay that when they can get a “I’m a Democrat for Willkie” button for £3.68? I haven’t taken the plunge yet, but do have my eye on an “Obama ’08” two-and-a-half-inch badge.

    Joking aside, thanks for telling us about the office opening, I’m really pleased you all had a good day. Your comment about hippie-chick Ruiz made me think about Bill Clinton’s first term in Arkansas. The sight of barefoot, long-haired-beardie-weirdie intellectuals trooping in and out of the Governor’s Mansion really drove some people mad back then…

  10. In an era of greater proportions for smaller parties how relevant is the mythical 20% lead?

    At the moment, with only around 74% to share between Con/Lab, that would equate to 47% versus 27% which at close to 2:1 seems very implausible.

  11. @Colin

    Thank you for your very informative response to my post. Personally I would agree with Phil Haines that your first two points re the financial industry are the important ones and that the others are basically about presentation. I also agree that it might have been very difficult for labour to look that particular gift horse (the financial industry) in the mouth and call it to order. Certainly they could not have looked for support from the opposition if they had tried to do so.

    This particular failure, however, is not at all the same as maxing out on a credit card which to me implies reckless overspending. So it still means that the debate is over-simplified and to some extent about the wrong things. And so I agree with Lefy L that this could be a disaster for the country, and with Paul Croft that it probably reflects a decision that this is an argument that has been lost rather than an acceptance that it should have been lost. Personally I think that this acceptance does nobody any favours.

  12. @ Charles

    Despite my general dislike of the financial services industry and scepticism about it’s real worth to our economy given the (excessive) fees it charges which affects everything from bank loans to business, our pension fund valuations etc, it still currently remains the one obvious source of revenue for our country. A very tricky one to resolve and even someone like Ken Livingstone realised it’s worth and was quite supportive in his time as Mayor.

    So not only was it difficult for Labour it remains a difficult one for the current government to handle especially given that bank prosperity effects the wider economy beyond just bank profits bringing in tax revenue.


    @”This particular failure, however, is not at all the same as maxing out on a credit card which to me implies reckless overspending. ”

    I tend to agree . They are not a good choice of words.

    I would rather see Cons try to find a better way of encapsulating the essence of that point-which is why did you run deficits through a boom?

    So I think the roof fixing & the sunshine was a better metaphor.

    How much of this detail matters though?

    OPs seem to indicate that opinion on matters fiscal has settled something like :-

    We don’t like the cuts; agree they could be a bit slower; but think they are necessary-and trust GO/DC more than EB/EM .

    There is something in there for both parties.

    The intriguing question is the one AW raises-which is more important at mid term-that people trust you-or people say they will vote for you?

  14. postageincluded – Nah, mine were 1951, O1974 and 1966.
    Looks like I missed out 1955.

  15. PMI services @ 48.9 for December which is the worst in 2 years. I would suggest stage one of the the triple dip scenario seems in place- ie a fall in GDP in Q4 (stage two being a fall in Q1 next year.

    To quote AW’s favourite ‘normal caveats apply’. The main one being that December must be a difficult month to quantify so early plus there are still 3 months to run for a triple dip to happen.

    I would also argue that we see a lot of people posting (not so much on this site as on Guardian/DT) that jump to quick conclusions with every bit of economic info of which there are many. The basictTrend I am seeing is the “bumping along a bottom” trend which has been there now ever since 2008. So a drop in one quarter doesn’t mean a drop in the next one and rather than being a trend almost mean you get these bumps that thins then look a bit better because things were worse in the previous, hence the olympic boost previously then has a knock on drop the following quarter.

    There do seen to have been a few minor positives recently- time will tell.

  16. @ Paul Croft

    In advance I apologise for my atrocious grandma on my last post!

  17. That’s ok: my gran was quite ferocious as well.

  18. Amber:

    I don’t think its fair that you have set yoursel up as new-members-monitor as well as new-threads-monitor.

  19. Excellent post.

    Paul Croft,

    I think the collective answer will be:
    “No, we don’t.”

    I think you have hit the nail on the head.

  20. Anthony’s post, digested

    Problems for the Conservatives
    * Social groups where the Conservatives particularly struggle
    * UKIP – the availability of an alternative party on the right
    * Boundary changes requiring bigger lead

    Opportunities for the Conservatives
    * Reduction in Lab/LibDem tactical voting
    * Increase in Con/UKIP tactical voting
    * Incumbancy bonus
    * People who may join/consider joining the Conservative vote: prefer Cameron & Osborne to Miliband & Balls.
    * People who may join/consider joining the Conservative vote: social liberals.

    Problems for Labour
    * Mid term lead not big enough
    * Miliband & Balls not popular

    Opportunities for Labour
    * Sticky defectors from LibDem

    In summary
    * Fat lady not yet sung


  21. AW.

    Your analysis, as ever, is superb. And of course, the “no-one has ever managed to do X from position Y before (apart from the ones who did)” arguments are fatuous and should be put aside.

    However, there IS still the elephant in the Conservative Central Office room that I don’t see anyone (openly) discussing.

    If the LDs don’t bounce back to something around 17-20% (or, alternatively, if some other force emerges that can split the centre-left vote) then the Tories are going to need to be pushing 40% to even be the biggest party in the post-15 Parliament. They are likely to need 42+% to get an OM. (Those figures are my own guesstimates, predicated on starting at today’s position and them then taking support equally from Labour, DK and UKIP – if they DON’T take some support from Labour then they would probably need a couple or three points more on their overall scores to hit those outcomes. We can probably argue about the fine detail but I doubt that the numbers would be far out.)

    And this is the elephant. In the last 24 years, the Tories have only four times briefly popped their noses above these sorts of VI figures for more than the odd poll or two. ALL of these occasions were in very supportive circumstances (the defenestration of Thatcher, the pre-Black Weds GE honeymoon, the depths of the 08-09 Great Recession and Brown’s implosion and the short-lived Rose Garden honeymoon.

    If I were a Tory strategist, I would be having kittens over this. Put simply, except in the most propitious of circumstances (and even then, only just and only briefly), the Tories simply do not attract the sort of support levels that are going to be needed to win in the absence of a divided Centre-Left.

  22. ” or alternatively UNLESS some other force emerges that can split the centre-left vote” of course

  23. SHEVII

    In other words, we’re now 2.5 years into a carbon copy of Japan’s Lost Decade economic performance. They didn’t have a horrific slump. They just bumped along alternating between 0.5% growth and 0.5% contraction, whilst expectations of what constituted economic “success” were slowly ground downwards and the country lost its global economic standing.

    So we are EXACTLY in the situation that the “deficit deniers” were warning of when Austerity Uber Alles became the motif.

  24. @ Paul C

    I don’t think its fair that you have set yourself up as new-members-monitor as well as new-threads-monitor.
    You missed the run-up to the 2010 GE. I was forecast monitor as well! I am quite the little busy-body; you might think of me as a volunteer in UKPR’s version of the Big Society. ;-)

  25. PS:

    Whilst I’m in an “If I were a strategist” mood, I’d suggest that some bright young thing in Labour HQ should be put in a darkened room and told not to come out until they had devised a growth-related put down as pithy and era-defining as Deficit Denier.

  26. Well, DC’s impending speech on the EU may well prove a useful guide to the extent to which UKIP’s current supporters may change their VI.

    And reflecting on AW’s analysis, I have frequently asserted on UKPR threads since May 2010 that the fact we have a coalition government might be affecting the level of midterm VI that historically the main Opposition party has enjoyed.

    Is there another Argy bargy on the way?

  27. I agree that both parties have major issues that need resolving:-

    The Tories have the following problems:

    1) The electoral system as it stands (i.e. without boundary changes) benefits Labour. They’d need a 7 point lead on a UNS to win an outright majority – a very difficult feat to achieve in 2015.
    2) The rise of UKIP. Although it is likely that at least some of the UKIP would fall back to the Tories come a GE, ANY votes for UKIP are likely to prove costly. The real question is to what extent the UKIP vote will stick. Should the Tories re-align their policies/soundbites to appeal to such voters, or would this push them too far to the right and risk alienating other voters?
    3) They are in government during a time of massive worldwide austerity and economic gloom. When times are tough, it is often much harder to garner any real enthusiasm or support from the public.
    4) Further to the last point, how much would be left, if anything, for the Tories to be able to offer as pre-election sweeteners in 2015?
    5) The toxic/out of touch Tory brand persists. Thus, it may prove difficult to attract working class voters, which DC may need to get an overall majority in 2015.
    6) The Tories are limited somewhat to which type of voter they can attract. Their support from public sector workers is likely to be limited, for example, due to the massive cuts to the public sector and/or pay/pensions. As is their support from unemployed people/people onmany forms of welfare. They also struggle to get widespread support from minority or immigrant populations, despite this being a growing demographic. This puts a ceiling on what they can realistically hope to achieve in a GE.

    Labour’s problems are as follows:-

    1) Labour has a steady and solid lead in the polls, but their current lead is low by historical standards for an opposition party who go on to win the next GE. Like AW, I am NOT saying that this means that they can’t win, but a 10 point at this stage is not, by any means, insurmountable IMO.
    2) Ed Miliband’s and Ed Ball’s personal ratings are pretty dire, especially for those of an opposition party during times of massive government unpopularity. For some reason, Ed Miliband (and Balls) are failing to connect with voters.
    3) The public have less economic confidence in Miliband/Balls than Cameron/Osborne despite the double dip recession.
    4) With the collapse of the Lib Dems, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the electoral system will favour Labour as much as before. The swingometer will probably become less useful to predict the outcome of 2015 than before, and IMO the Tories probably won’t quite need 7% to win an outright majority. A lot of Lib Dems seats are likely to turn blue at the next GE.
    5) There is still a regional problem for Labour (as with the Tories) that may limit their ability to easily get a majority. Down in the southern half of the UK/England, I think it will be hard for Labour to make significant gains, especially if Labour fail to be middle-class friendly/occupy the centre ground. Ed doesn’t have so much appeal in the southern half of the UK. Will this affect their far superior vote to seat conversion rate i.e. will they pile up more unneeded votes in northern England/Scotland/Wales where they already hold the majority of seats?
    6) The Tories do much better with the over 65s than the under 65s. The problem for Labour is that this group is the most likely to vote. As with the Lib Dems in 2010, will a lot of the younger voters (i.e. under 30 or 35) who say they will currently vote Labour in 2015 actually turn outon election day? Or will many stay at home? I think at least some will do the latter – more than the over 65 group.

    In my opinion, in light of the above a Labour victory is probably slightly more likely than a Tory one. However, if I were a betting man, I’d say another hung parliament looks an attractive option. But as AW says, anything is possible at this stage. It looks pretty finely balanced at the mo.

  28. The Tory argument is

    No need to worry this is just like the 80s and no matter how big the lab leads they will melt away when it actually comes to voting day

    For me this just emphasises how much the “modern” Tories are living in the past. The blairites seem to be living in the past as well. But maybe we are living through a rerun of the 80s, I don’t think so

  29. Amber:

    Okeydokey – you do the lot. I shall jeer, supportively, from the sidelines.

    There are far more potential downsides to come for the Tories than otherwise. Not least elections which will probably be disastrous and ead to further bad headines and general panic.

    It all feeds on itself.

  30. Shaun:

    “Excellent post – Paul Croft”

    Just in case anyone missed that perspicacious observation.

  31. @Lefty

    “Austerity Addict”

    “The Architects of Breadline Britain”

    “Double/Triple Dipper”

    “Cabinet of Incompetents”

  32. @Paul

    “Just in case anyone missed that perspicacious observation.”

    I saw the comment, but I haven’t been able to fund the post to which it refers.


  33. Actually I’d appreciate some observations on my idea that its the proportionate lead, rather than the straight % lead, that is more relevant, vis-a-vis lab/con.

    As I said, they can hardy be 20% ahead when the combined pool for the two parties is only around 74%.

  34. There simply have not been enough elections for anyone to be able to say that a lead of ‘x’ is necessary. The sample size is far far too low.

    I think the one significant factor that AW hasn’t highlighted is that all the polling evidence depends on the ability of each side to get their voters out on election day. This is the Tory’s biggest advantage in that their voters tend to be more reliable. Of course this can be overstated (I’m looking at you Karl Rove)…

    I’m also continually surprised by the idea that 2010 LD voters have defected to Labour. For many it may be a return to Labour – they were defectors to LD first. Where this is the case I suspect that they will be far more sticky than a die hard LD voter who has switched for the first time.

  35. Robin:

    Its good of you to offer to fund my posts.

    Is a fiver OK?

  36. Ambivalentsupporter:

    Bear in mind when betting on a hung parliament that the probability of this falls considerably as the number of Lib Dem seats drops. On a 24% LD vote share a hung parliament would result anywhere from a 1 point Labour lead to a 9 point Tory lead. If the LD only poll 12%, however, a hung parliament will only happen with a 1-5 point Tory lead.

  37. Robin:

    My post you are trying to fund: 9-38 pm last night.

    I couldn’t have put it better myself.

  38. Hung parliaments are very rare in a fptp system, I really wouldn’t bet on another Hung parliament. The voters tried to get a Hung parliament in 92 but didn’t manage it and we ended up with major. I’m afraid that Hung parliaments are a once In a generation thing

  39. A cheering article, in case anyone thought that economic good news is just around the corner…

  40. The whole argument that the labour ‘should be more ahead in the polls if they want to win’ is – IMO – based on a misreading of the polls.

    Back in the 80s and early 90s labour had several periods where they led in the polls – sometimes by very large margins – but this lead evaporated come polling day.
    However we are not in the same position today. In the 80s the tories needed to retain their vote from the previous election to win – which they consitantly did in 1982, 1987 and 1992, capturing a solids low 40′ share of the vote on each occasion with only a small decrease in their vote share until the meltdown of 1997.

    But the tories only got 36% of the vote in 2010 and even if they get all of that vote back – or even exceed it marginally – they are going to lose because the ‘anti-tory vote’ that was referred to above is now solidly behind labour rather than spit between labour and the lib dems (and their previous incarnations).

    Now the tories are polling at around 4-5% less than their general election performance, which would be a reasonable performance for a government if they had won a soild victory on 40+% of the vote – but its more of a case that they are realy polling at close to core vote. i.e. their vote is unlikely to go down much more.

    To win the tories have to exceed their 2010 performance, possibly by as much as 4%. Now sure just because it hasn’t happened before doesn’t mean it wont (as Andrew points out) but that sort of improvement by an incumbent government would require some sort of political earthquake – a combination of the falklands war, and economic miracle and the labour party declaring that it will come round and kick every pensioner in the goolies if elected.

    Meanwhile the political earthquake that labour require to bounce back from their poll disaster in 2010 has already happened – it was Nick Clegg taking the lib dems into coalition.

    Whilst we are still a long way from the next GE, I cant see much changing in the polls. The economy is stagnant and all the signs are that it is likely to stay that way. Labour’s poll rating has not moved in a year – low 40s all the way, suggesting that it is NOT volitile or flaky and that the lib dems will have a hard job winning a significant amount of it back – whilst the tories never had those votes in the first place.

    UKIP voters will drift back to the Tories, but they are still likely to take a greater hit from farage an co in 2015 than in 2010.
    Basically the Tory task – (fend off UKIP, retain their 2010 vote and win over a significant chunk of voters who have not voted tory in over twenty years)- is a far greater challenge than labours – (retain most of their lib dem defectors – not do anything really really stupid).

  41. @ED W,

    Very true. Though the figures you quoted are based on a UNS – I think UNS will be less accurate at the next GE. The Tories are likely to take a
    Iot of Lib Dem seats even if Labour’s share in these seats increases massively.

  42. Very good piece Anthony. I think you’re right – too early to say.

    I think the Conservative Party is better placed than polls suggest but if it drops below 30% for any sustained period it will be in difficulties from which it may not easily recover.

    Your point about Labour’s rise in vote made up from LibDem votes which may not do them much good is also well taken. We must remember that Labour did rather better in seats than its % of the vote would have implied last time round. But to some extent that reflected a reality where the Conservative Party did not get as near to 40% as it needed to get to produce a victory.

    I’m unclear whether the failure of the reduction of seats to 600 means that there will be no changes to any boundaries which might have taken place. That being so,that will bring some marginal benefit to Labour.

    The Ed issue remains a real problem for Labour. I can only think of one other leader who has had such an image problem making it to No 10 – and that was on the second attempt – Ted Heath. but there is also a caveat – Ed Milliband may be able to repeat his recent conference tour de force in the small TV format before the debates. Clearly he knows he has a problem and from last autumn he has shown a determination to do something about how he’s perceived. Clegg wasn’t much in anybody’s mind before he shone brightly in the debates last time around.

    If we are still much where we are now next year the narrow balance of advantage will be with the Conservatives. But in the end more may depend upon the wider financial crisis which still seems as unresolved as at any time in the last 6 years than with domestic politics .

    If Japan is the new normal we cannot assume that electorates in western Europe and UK will respond the same way as the Japanese. and the party which grasps the ugly nettle of an international trading system and global financial markets being managed by nation states too large to be representative of the aspirations of the regions from which they’re composed and too small and weak to manage the global challenges will more likely determine the longer term success of poltical parties. Were I Mr Milliband I would seize the devolved model and extend it to London and the regions and also defy critics have a referendum on EU membership and argue for UK participation in a bigger political entity which must be both democratic and powerful enough to face down global financial interests.

    We are more likely to get another make-shift coalition of the ambitious who in the end are too frightened to face these realities.

    We will go on with the pretence that the UK is a political entity capable of meaningful sovereignty. Like the USA find we are trapped in trapped inside a structure which no longer delivers effective government.

    but all is not lost. The good news is that this is not the first time in human history this has been the case. But like the so called fall of the Roman Empire or the end of the replacement of the medieval with the nation state – the process to replace one form of polity with another has usually been long drawn out and often bloody.

  43. These service sector figures are very disappointing, and really flatten any sense of optimism that the December manufacturing stats brought.

    As @Shevii suggests, these are only one set of figures, and as the most recent component of the Q4 data they are the most provisional, but I don’t think it’s quite as simply as bumping along the bottom.

    The new orders part of the November service sector PMI data was predicting contraction (which has now worsened in the December stats) and this pre dates poor weather, suggesting a more fundamental shift in sentiment than an odd monthly oscillation around zero growth.

    We also have today warnings from Waitrose that 2013 will see ‘massive’ food price rises, as the wet weather last year has prevented planting for the coming season. One of the main reasons why consumer sentiment was edging upwards was that the decline in spending power caused by higher inflation than earnings earnings was easing. Benefit caps, food price inflation, and wage suppression caused by declining business confidence are all likely to create further pressures on household budgets.

    If Q4 GDP is indeed negative, this will be a very serious blow to the government. Cameron’s New Year message was one of optimism. He has to give this a lash, but every time he talks about the sunlit uplands, along comes bad news to make him look out of touch. It’s partly self inflicted, and partly bad luck, but every negative quarter further diminishes their credibility.

  44. ‘Seven percent, however, is still a formidable lead to achieve to get a majority of just one. Tony Blair in 2005, Thatcher in 1979, Wilson in 1964, 1966 and Oct 1974, Heath in 1970, MacMillan in 1959, Eden in 1955, Churchill in 1951 and Attlee in 1950 all got overall majorities with lower leads than the seven percent Cameron achieved in 2010. ‘

    As always I enjoyed reading your detailed analysis of what might lie ahead in 2.33 years time – and agree with 99% of it!
    On a minor statistical point re- the above comment, I believe that on a GB – rather than UK – basis, Thatcher had a lead of 7.1% in 1979 and Wilson’s lead in 1966 was 7.3%.

  45. @ ED W

    “Bear in mind when betting on a hung parliament that the probability of this falls considerably as the number of Lib Dem seats drops. On a 24% LD vote share a hung parliament would result anywhere from a 1 point Labour lead to a 9 point Tory lead. If the LD only poll 12%, however, a hung parliament will only happen with a 1-5 point Tory lead.”

    This assumes that there will be a uniform drop across all seats for the LDs. In practice its likely to be anything but the case.

    In 2010 it took the LDs 5 times more voters to win 1 seat than it did for Lab. That alone tells you they have a lot of “wasted” votes out there that they can shed. Indeed its perfectly possible (not that I am suggesting this) that they could go from 24% to 12% and still retain all of their parliamentary seats. And still thet would be requiring more voters to elect 1 MP than either Lab or Con.

  46. Graham – I expect you are correct, but I didn’t have GB percentages for past elections to hand so was forced to resort to comparing UK ones (which does, of course, mean that what I wrote is still slightly wrong – the Conservative UK lead in 1979 was less than in 2010, but the figures were 7% and 7.1%)

  47. @AmbivalentSupporter

    “Very true. Though the figures you quoted are based on a UNS – I think UNS will be less accurate at the next GE. The Tories are likely to take a
    Iot of Lib Dem seats even if Labour’s share in these seats increases massively.”

    Again this presumes that LD votes are lost to Lab in a specific “uniform” way. We simply have no way of knowing that will be the case. Although instinctively for the reasons I outlined earlier on the thread I do not think it will be this way.

    As a side note just think how much of all UKPR speculation could be canned if we had proper polling of ex 2010 LD voters, proper constituency polling (as outlined by Phil Haines on Page 1 of this thread) and proper Scottish polling. I’d go so far to say that with all of the above done AW would never had to have written such a long (and excellent) dissertation, explaining why its all still up in the air for 2015, because to anyone sensible it would be as clear as mud.

  48. Sometimes this site makes me smile.

    AW writes a big article on the subject of how silly it is that people claim “X can’t win because of Y”.

    Everyone agrees with how wise he is.

    Then everyone sets out why “X can’t win because of Y”.

    Plus ca change….

  49. @Colin @Shevii

    Thanks for your very fair minded reply to my post. I agree that metaphors about roofs would be more to the point. But that brings us on to the question of what exactly should count as ‘mending the roof’ (would fixing the education system count?). Personally I think that this would be a fruitful thing to debate but it goes beyond my original question. As indeed would further discussion of the financial industry where I agree with Shevii that this is a difficult beast for anyone to control without making things worse. But none of this is to quarrel with Coin’s analysis of where the public is on these matters which I find very persuasive.

  50. @neil A

    Well AW thorough analysis isn’t going to make any bold predictions as his reputation would suffer if hes wrong. Its based very much on what evidence and facts we have – but he is understandably reluctant to make predictions on it.

    The rest of us can speculate to our hearts content.

    I think the tories face a far greater challenge than labour at the next election.That does not dispute what AW has said, its my analysis partly based on the evidence he has provided.

    The really crucial question and the one that we need solid polling on is how many of labour lid dem defectors will stay with labour at the next GE? It is this – rather than usual the tory/labour swing – that is the determining factor for 2014/15.

1 2 3 4 7